A regular morning walk on Strand beach for father and daughter, René and Alice van Galen, on Wednesday August 5, was quite special because it was Alice’s ninth birthday, and it rendered a rather unusual birthday present.
“We normally walk in the morning before work and school, and our normal routine is to walk towards the pipe and then back down the beach, but for some reason we decided to go the other way.
“In doing so, Alice stumbled across the turtle which we found at the highest point of the spring tide and big swell, up against the area where the beach meets the bushes,” René said.
“The turtle looked dead but as we went closer we saw it move slightly.
“I picked it up, thinking to dip it quickly into the sea and it was then suggested I call Gordon’s Bay NSRI to report (the find) and ask for the best advise. They were on the scene soon after.”
The NSRI team contacted Two Oceans Aquarium for assistance.
Katja Laingui, Two Oceans Education Foundation (TOEF) education operations manager, takes up the story.
“Our turtle team collected the turtle, which was severely hypothermic and lethargic, and brought him back to our turtle rehabilitation centre at the Two Oceans Aquarium.
“The turtle (named Olaf) has undergone a thorough examination and luckily nothing too serious seems to be wrong. Apart from the hypothermia, he also has a wound on his left front flipper.
“We are monitoring him closely and will keep on doing so to make sure there are no underlying medical conditions.
“We aim to release all of the turtles that come to our centre, but we only do so once we are convinced that the animal is healthy and fit,” said Katja.
“We named this little turtle Olaf, because he arrived in an incredibly frozen state (much colder than many other turtle strandings) so we named him after the Snowman from the movie Frozen.
“The snowman in the movie loves summer, and as a hawksbill, Olaf too, prefers very warm and tropical waters,” TOEF conservation coordinator, Talitha Noble, told Bolander on Friday, in response to an inquiry about how Olaf is fairing.
“Our little hawksbill is stable at the moment. He has responded really well to the antibiotics and warmer water, swimming around quite curiously and already gaining some weight.
“He arrived with a nasty wound on his left flipper which is being treated topically on a daily basis, and he is also receiving pain medication for this.
“While we have been offering Olaf an array of different foods, he hasn’t shown much interest yet, though he did eat one small piece of squid about a week ago.
“Turtles are slow creatures, this is also true for their metabolism. Often it takes weeks before they start eating or passing faeces.
“We are therefore monitoring him closely and giving him some time to do his turtle thing.
“We are happy with the way Olaf’s rehabilitation is progressing and while he is still very much in ICU, we are hopeful that he will continue to respond well and eventually be ready to head back to the ocean.”
Asked whether it is unusual for a hawksbill turtle, which is usually found in tropical waters to find its way to the chilly waters of the Cape, Ms Noble said: “Hawksbills are super special turtles. They are one of the seven species in the world, and critically endangered.
“Two of the first turtles we ever tagged and released were also hawkbills, back in 2015.
“Over the last 10 years, we have had a handful of hawksbills, about six or seven.
“They are not the most common turtle we see, but do find themselves in our cold waters on occasion.
“Strangely enough though, Olaf is one of three hawksbill sightings off our coast in the last few weeks.
“One was spotted in False Bay just a few weeks ago, and we had another that stranded in the rocks of Sea Point last week. Unfortunately he didn’t make it.
“While they do prefer tropical waters, they are also ocean travellers and can deal remarkably well with cold temperatures.
“Having said that, when they are compromised or injured, the cold water only makes them weaker. This was the case with Olaf, who was unable to navigate his way back into warm currents due to being weak, injured and in cold shock.”
Bolander will keep in touch with TOEF and report back.